The multiplicity of actions of benzodiazepine receptor ligands

Can J Psychiatry. 1993 Nov;38 Suppl 4:S102-8.


The benzodiazepine receptor is an allosteric modulatory site present on most, if not all, gamma-aminobutyric acid A (GABAA) receptor channels (GABAA-R). The benzodiazepine receptor recognizes a large spectrum of compounds from different chemical classes that are grouped together as benzodiazepine receptor ligands--of benzodiazepine and non benzodiazepine structure. The GABAA-R is thought to be a heteropentameric protein complex composed of at least three different classes of subunits, with each subunit comprised of up to six structural variants. Binding of GABA to the extracellular domain of the receptor causes a conformational change that opens the channel pore to anions. A classical benzodiazepine achieves a positive allosteric modulation of the GABA channel gating function by increasing the affinity of the receptor for GABA and, possibly, by facilitating the conformational transition from the closed to the open form (benzodiazepine receptor agonists). Inverse agonists of benzodiazepine receptors cause negative allosteric modulation (a decrease in the GABA activity). Benzodiazepine receptor antagonists bind to the benzodiazepine receptor with little effect on GABAA-R functioning. The intrinsic efficacy of benzodiazepine receptor ligands determines the direction and magnitude of allosteric modulation. Benzodiazepine receptor agonists affect neuronal activity in all major neuronal networks. The classical pharmacological profile of benzodiazepine receptor agonists consists of anxiolytic, anticonvulsant, sedative, and myorelaxant activities. Partial agonists of benzodiazepine receptors conserve anxiolytic and anticonvulsant activity, with greatly reduced sedation and muscle relaxation. They promise to present therapeutic advantages, in particular for long term use. In initial studies. they have produced fewer side-effects and showed reduced tolerance development and physical dependence liability.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arousal / drug effects
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Chloride Channels / drug effects
  • Chloride Channels / physiology
  • Humans
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Neural Inhibition / drug effects*
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology
  • Receptors, GABA-A / drug effects*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / physiology
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Chloride Channels
  • Receptors, GABA-A